A Comprehensive Guide for the New Freelance Writer
How to start freelance writing.
Just starting out as a writer? I wish you the best. To me, writing is the ultimate form of expression. To quote a favorite movie character, Professor Dumbledore (of Harry Potter fame) said, “Words are our most inexhaustible form of magic.”
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I truly believe that words can be the magic that provides answers, encouragement, vision, inspiration, correction, and much, much, more. So, congratulations on your choice to take a stab at writing.
Writing as a hobby or keeping a journal is much different than freelance writing. Freelancing with any skill is for pay. You are leveraging a skill you possess, one that someone else needs and is willing to pay for, to create another source of income. In this current COVID-19 pandemic with many people out of work, it is no wonder that many who like writing would seek to generate some income through freelance writing.
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But there are hosts of freelance writers across the Internet. You must prepare before you dive into the melee and try to find work. Some crucial steps to prepare yourself will help you when you actually begin pitching potential jobs.
Pick a Type of Writing to Provide
This is often called carving out your own niche. What type of writing services will you provide? Jumping into writing anything and everything may seem easier, but it will be more difficult to price these various tasks accurately. Plus, when you have heart issues, you want a heart doctor, not a general internal medicine physician.
So, choose a niche of freelance writing and become a specialist in that narrow line.
- Web page content
- News articles
- Newspaper columnist
- Features writer
- Magazine content
- Product description writer
- Business copywriter
- Advertising copywriter
- Grant writing
- Essay/academic writing
- Business Plans
- Press Releases
- Technical writing
- Instructional writing
- Research writer
- Speech/podcast/video script writer
All these and more are choices in which you can specialize and then find numerous writing opportunities on the Internet. Some are easier than others, and some seem easy but have a strict protocol that demands real skill.
Examine some examples across the Internet and choose one that you know you could do well.
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Build a Portfolio of Work
Real companies hire good writers who can demonstrate that they have writing skills. It takes more than good grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and word choices to become a good writer. Really good writers, dare I say great writers, can write an engaging piece on a topic about which they care very little.
For example, I’m a full-time freelance writer with many legal blogs in my portfolio. But I am not a legal specialist, nor do I have a background in law. In fact, I have very little interest in law, except that law blogs are lucrative (pay well).
So, when clients need a blog on a legal topic for a lawyer’s website, I research and write an informative and factual legal blog that provides good information in a clear manner. This is the general format lawyers want for their blogs.
All this to say, build a portfolio of work that you can display to prospective clients that includes samples of writing on various topics. \
If you want to write blogs for business websites, include blogs about various kinds of law, healthcare, childcare, politics, service industries (some of my service clients have me writing about drones, dental topics, plastic surgery and cosmetic injectables, concrete leveling, guttering, sewer services, Internet and networking, fighter planes, restoring old brick homes, digital advertising, and private investigative services).
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Open an account on Medium, then polish and post your absolute best work, in whatever niche you have chosen. Directing prospective clients to a single link where they can quickly view many samples is better than sending many file attachments.
Few have time to open attachments, and the security risks that sending attachments poses cause most to just ignore them.
Prepare Your Pricing in Advance
This is something no one told me about in my early foray into freelance writing. Consequently, I wrote blogs and other copy for almost nothing, because I had no idea what it was worth.
Prepare a pricing sheet for your services and keep it nearby, so you can answer inquiries quickly. Often, the fastest response to an inquiry gets chosen for the job.
When preparing to enter full-time freelancing, I calculated what I would need to make a living, how much time was required to complete certain tasks, and all my related expenses. Starting out part-time as a freelance writer, you can start accepting less, but build up as you gain experience and actual client work to include in your portfolio.
After calculating your expenses and related concerns, set a basic fee per hour as a starting point, and then determine how much time is required to complete certain types of writing.
For example, if you begin with $30 per hour, and a 500–800 word blog post on a non-technical (simple) topic takes you two hours to write, you should charge no less than $60 per blog post, and likely more. In fact, in that scenario, I would suggest charging $75 per blog post. I would also work on getting faster.
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There are also resources on the Internet to help you see the average pricing for different types of writing copy, based on levels of expertise. Examine some of them to get some baseline ideas of where you can begin.
Be sure you do not start out charging too much for your level/skill at writing. Good clients know what level of work they need, and they can spot it easily. Charging too much for average work will leave you without work most of the time.
Prepare a Contract Process for Clients
Protecting yourself legally for all manner of situations is critical, even for the part-time freelancer. Never complete any work, or even begin, without a signed contract for services from the client. If they want samples, send them the link to your Medium portfolio.
If they want a fresh sample on a topic of their choosing, ask for a contract to provide a paid sample. Legitimate companies will pay your standard rate for a sample.
Those who refuse to pay for a sample, kindly refuse.
There are many boilerplate contracts available online for freelancers to use. I do not recommend just downloading and using any contract. These can be helpful, but you should always read through them completely to see what they contain. Any downloadable boilerplate contract will need to be customized to fit your business needs.
Ask an attorney or accountant for advice and have them review any sample contracts you want to use, to ensure they meet your needs for protection and getting paid. Contracts should basically include:
- How and when you should be paid / your payment terms
- Pricing for content
- Amount of revisions provided
- Agreements on rights to completed work
- Non-disclosure terms
- Duration of work/contract
- Contract cancellation provisions
- Contact information for all parties
- Guidelines for handling disputes
It is always a good idea to personalize your contracts with your logo, business name, and other contact information for a more professional look. You may also want to use some estimating/invoicing software to keep up with billing and accepting payments. I use Wave apps online, and it is a fantastic tool.
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After crafting your contracts for services, save them as PDF files and invest in a digital means for clients to sign them. In our digital world, this is the most efficient and fast way to get contracts signed.
Requiring clients to print, sign, scan, and email contracts is simply not professional. Digital signatures are valid for all types of business, and can be obtained quickly via email.
Now that you have prepared the preliminaries, it’s time to hang out your shingle and get some work. This can be the most difficult phase of freelancing. Many companies need the skills you offer; the trouble comes in locating them. Here are some places I recommending searching for work.
Alignable.com is a networking website where you can build a business portfolio and advertise your services. It focuses on local connections for those who do business with clients nearby, as well as offer services for clients over the Internet. You can connect with other similar businesses or other companies who may need your services. Some tips for using Alignable successfully include:
- Connect with as many businesses as possible, especially those who could use your services.
- Pitch your freelance writing specialty and offer a special for a limited time.
- Complete your business profile, describing your services and how they benefit clients.
- Provide various forms of contact information.
- Connect personally with each company that accepts your connection requests, and briefly share how your services can help their business, especially during the pandemic crisis.
Using Alignable is free, and you can build up your connections over time to quite a large volume.
Some freelancers will not agree with this, and every freelancer has strong opinions about using freelancing platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. There are legitimate, well-paying companies that search for freelancing talent on these platforms. I know, because I have several clients on Upwork myself. Choose one of two platforms and create a completed profile, including the link to your portfolio.
Most platforms also allow you to create a portfolio on their site, so upload some of your best samples there, too. When using these sites, I recommend these tips:
- Completely fill out your profile and include a picture.
- Share your best samples in your portfolio, plus a link to your Medium portfolio.
- Pitch at least 30 job postings every day; more pitches mean more chances at landing work.
- Only choose job offers or opportunities from verified users/verified pay sources/legitimate companies.
- Only choose job postings that offer suitable rates for your services.
- Craft a friendly, but professional, pitch letter that you can copy/paste and easily customize to use for offering your services to job postings.
It usually takes time to land a good client through these platforms. However, when you land a good one, it usually leads to repeat business or ongoing contracts. Some of my best (and highest-paying) clients were found through freelancing platforms.
Facebook Groups exist for every conceivable interest, and that includes industries that could use your services. Join and become active in several of these groups. Answer questions, offer sensible and polite replies to other postings, and become otherwise involved in the group. Do not be overt in selling your services. Wait for opportunities to arise to share naturally. They will come, trust me.
I would also recommend joining some writer’s groups. One of the best and most faithful clients I have connected with me through a Facebook writer’s group. There are often opportunities to share what you do and what you have to offer through these groups. Interact with the group and offer advice and encouragement to other group members.
LinkedIn is the ultimate social media platform for businesses. It is also a good place to begin connecting with companies and individuals who could use your services. Create a LinkedIn Business profile and complete it with a logo/photo, your service offerings, portfolio samples, contact information, and any specials you want to run.
LinkedIn also allows you to post articles to your profile, so take advantage of this. Upload thoughtful, well-written articles that provide accurate information and real value. This keeps your business before your connections, as your postings will show up on their LinkedIn wall.
You can also connect directly with companies and individuals through LinkedIn to offer service specials, deals, or pitch an idea for working together. Be sure you do this kindly and professionally, and not in a spammy or salesy manner. LinkedIn is a group of professionals networking together for mutual benefit. Be sure you offer a significant benefit in any proposal.
Word of Mouth
Let everyone you know in on your launch into freelance writing. Be sure to explain what you have to offer and how it can benefit your target business clients. Call or email other local companies that you know, or any employees there that you know personally, and share your new business venture. Always include a link to your Medium portfolio so interested parties can view your samples.
Many of my best clients heard about be from another satisfied client or a friend. A personal recommendation goes a long way in business. In fact, ask your friends and family to recommend your new freelance business to employers or companies they know. You could even offer some sort of incentive for those who recommend you to a paid client. Gift cards are always a winner for this type of incentive.
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Now that you have prepared adequately and are trolling for clients, you need to begin by doing things the right way. Freelancers have a mixed reputation due to many who are less than professional in their dealings with clients. Don’t become one of them! You are running a business, even just part-time, so treat it like a business. Follow these suggestions to be successful.
Under Promise and Over Deliver
Always give more than the client asks for or expects. Don’t just produce the bare minimum to meet a task’s requirements. I see it all the time, and it marks the freelancer as a ten-percenter — a person who is lazy and does only the minimum required to get by. These people are constantly looking for clients, because few will use them more than once or twice.
If a blog post is to be 500–800 words, don’t settle for 501 — go for 800. Don’t go over, because your client may have space limitations. Too much can be as problematic as too little. If a web page requires certain keywords, use them naturally in the copy; don’t force them to fit where they do not belong. Provide the absolute best work, with up-to-date information and reliable references.
Here’s a pet peeve of mine, and I talk about it specifically in the next section: late work. I know life happens to everyone and schedules get interrupted. I recently had a sudden death in my family and had to inform clients of a delay. I briefly explained my circumstances, informed them of the delay, and asked for their understanding, as soon as I know there would be a problem completing work. And every single one responded with grace and allowed the extra time with no penalty.
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The key was communication, as well as a reputation for reliability. Part of my under-promise-and-over-deliver practice is to always turn in work ahead of the deadline. No matter what. I aim to deliver at least a day in advance of what was agreed. This way, even if something happens and I have to turn it in on the deadline day, it is still not late.
Meet Deadlines and Follow Guidelines
For heaven’s sake, freelancers, do what you have promised! The single most-heard complaint about freelance writers is that they treat deadlines like they are polite suggestions. I have earned bonuses from clients because I actually turned in work a day ahead of schedule. They were stunned; they saw that worthy of a bonus!
Reliability is what keeps clients returning with more work. When you follow the guidelines exactly, and turn in work on time, every single time, you gain a golden reputation that will keep you busy as a freelancer. In over 11 years of freelancing, both part-time and full-time, what companies share that they need most from a freelancer is reliability.
Don’t discount the importance of this quality. Great writers who cannot be depended on are still a headache. Good writers who produce what you need when you need it all the time are golden. Period.
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Do Not Steal
There is really nothing new under the sun, and that goes for the Internet as well. There is really no “new” information available. But your copy is to sound new, every single time; even when writing on the same topics. But you absolutely cannot, should not, and better not plagiarize from another website or source.
Plagiarism is stealing, and everyone hates a thief. And it is illegal as well as unethical. One certain way to kill your freelancing business is to copy someone else’s work and sell it as your own. Just don’t do it.
There is nothing wrong with researching other sites and getting ideas. You can even find new reference sources from other websites that offer what you offer. But everything you produce needs to be unique and original.
In fact, there is no much information in the Internet, and by now I have written a ton of it myself, I run everything I write through a paid plagiarism checker to ensure what I send to clients or publish is 100% original, and does not include even inadvertent similar material.
Always pursue excellence in every piece of freelance writing you produce. Strive to make each piece of copy better than the last one. This also means that you should be constantly working on your craft. Learning never stops if you plan to stay in business. Giving your best should be your go-to, your default, no matter the situation or client.
As you write more on certain subjects, you will acquire some knowledge of that industry. That will allow you to produce better, more accurate copy even faster. But don’t let yourself fall into a rut of using the same old wording and structure in every piece. Subscribe to some writing newsletters and read as often as you can to expand your vocabulary and knowledge.
As your freelance writing improves, and gets noticed by your clients, your pay rates can and will increase. Nothing is better than a client offering a raise because they recognize the added value you are now producing for them on a regular basis. The feeling you get from receiving above-adequate compensation because you have built a solid reputation is truly wonderful.
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Wrapping It Up
I haven’t addressed everything you need to know as a freelance writer here; that would be far too long for you to be expected to read. But this is well enough for you to get started with every chance of success. Do you scroll to the end for a quick glance at an article outline? Impatient, like me? Here you go, then:
- Pick a Type of Writing to Provide
- Build a Portfolio of Work
- Prepare Your Pricing in Advance
- Prepare a Contract Process for Clients
- Freelancing Platforms
- Facebook Groups
- Word of Mouth
- Under Promise and Over Deliver
- Meet Deadlines and Follow Guidelines
- Do Not Steal
- Pursue Excellence
There it is in a nutshell. Now, go back and read through it all like you should!
This article was originally published on medium.